Saturday, 19 March 2011

Jasper Johns

One of the ‘founding fathers’ of pop art, Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930. In 1947- 48 he studied art at the University of South Carolina, but soon moved to New York where he did an apprenticeship as a commercial artist. In 1951-52 he had to serve his time in the army. Back in New York he earned a living doing odd jobs.

In 1954 Johns met the artist Robert Rauschenberg when together they decorated the shop window of Tiffany’s. They became lovers, and Rauschenberg soon had great influence on Johns’ own work. In the 1950s he makes the first ‘Flag’, ‘Target’, and ‘Number’ artworks. In 1958 his first one-man show was held at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York.

Works from those days are dominated by the motif of the American flag and the target, but also numbers and letters, the images that Johns is most famous for. Like Rauschenberg, Johns picks the issue of the ambiguity of symbols in a consumer society as the central motif of his work - symbols that are deprived of their symbolic function by their daily reproduction by mass media. Johns soon began to use the ancient technique of encaustic, which he applied to his newspaper collages.

He is best known for his painting Flag (1954-55) which he painted after having a dream about the American flag. His work is often described as a Neo-Dadaist, as opposed to Pop Art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture. Still, most compilations on Pop Art include Jasper Johns because of his artistic use of classical iconography.


1954-55 Flag


Detail of Flag 1954-55 showing use of encaustic (the use of hot wax), oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood (three panels). Now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In the late 1950s he also worked on sculptures, casting and painting everyday banal objects like beer cans or light bulbs. In the 1960s he made assemblages, integrating real objects or casts of body parts into his panels. His range of elements expanded over the following year, his works become more and more complex and, full of details alluding to private events or art history.

In 1988 he was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale. In 1989 he was appointed honorary member of the Royal Academy in London. The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a large retrospective in 1996.

Footnote: In 1999, Jasper Johns guest-starred in the animated television series The Simpsons, as himself. In the episode “Mom and Pop Art”, Homer Simpson is hailed as an “outsider artist” after an art dealer discovers Homer's mangled brick barbecue grill, and Johns attends one of his exhibitions. Johns is portrayed as a kleptomaniac, constantly stealing food items, lightbulbs, a motorboat, and Marge’s painting of the flooded town.


 1955 Target with Four Faces 

Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg both incorporated images taken from popular culture into a fine art context, and English pop artist Peter Blake has acknowledged their example. This work refers to Johns's work in particular. Whereas Johns had taken a familiar object - a target - and executed this motif on the canvas in a painterly style, Blake took this further by using a real archery target purchased from a sports shop. The work of art is consequently less like a painting and is even closer to the real world. Blake thus questions: is this 'The First Real Target'?


 Peter Blake: The First Real Target? 1961


 1956 Grey Alphabets


1958 Three Flags


1959 False Start

 1960 Painting with Two Balls


 1960 Painted bronze (Ballantine Ale)


 1960 Painted bronze (Savarin Coffee)


1967-69 Untitled

1967-69 Untitled 
1977-81 Savarin

1978 Savarin

1978 Savarin

1982 Savarin


1961 0 - 9

1961 0 - 9

1961 Map

1961 Target


 1962 Fools House


1963 0-9: Plate 8


 1964 Souvenir


 1964 Watchman


1967 Corpse and Mirror

1967 Flag

1967 Watchman

1967-69 Title Page

1967-69 Untitled


1969 Figure 7

1968 Figure 9


1969 Figure 9

1970-71 Sketch for Cups 2 Picasso / Cups 4 Picasso

1970-72 Two Flags (black)

1971 Decoy

1972 Evian

1972 Four Panels from Untitled

1972 Zone

 Scent 1973-4


1977 Untitled

1978 Land's End

1979 Cicada

 Dancers on a Plane 1979


1980 Untitled

1980 Usuyuki

1980-81 Dancers on a Plane

1981 Cicada

1982 Between the Clock and the Bed

 1982 In the Studio


 1984 Racing Thoughts


1984 Untitled

1986 Ventriloquist 
1987 The Seasons (Spring)

1987 The Seasons (Summer)

1987 The Seasons (Fall)

1987 The Seasons (Winter)

1989 The Seasons

 Green Angel 1990


1991 Untitled

1992 Untitled

1992 Untitled

1992 Untitled

1994 After Holbein

1994 Untitled

2004 Pyre

2005 Bushbaby

2007 Within

2008 0-9 aluminium

2011 Shrink Dink 3

2011 Shrink Dink 4

2012 Untitled

2014 Regrets

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